The below sermon is on 1 Corinthians 11. These free inductive notes are intended as supplement to your own study, not a replacement. Feel free to copy, print, or share them. These notes can be helpful for individual study of the Word or for small group Bible studies. We hope your understanding of God’s Word is deeper from them.
1 Corinthians 11 – Equal But Different
1 Corinthians 11:1-16 – Equal But Different
The passage we come to today is is a very interesting one. Many people don’t like to study it. You will probably never hear a preacher choose to preach on this passage if he could pick any passage in the Bible. Its a bit hard for us to understand in our culture today where few women wear head coverings. Perhaps some women don’t really like to study this passage in depth because they would prefer not to wear head coverings. And perhaps some men prefer not to study this passage in depth because it is easier to just avoid this issue than it is to approach it head on. I have heard many people say things like “I have never really taken the time to study this passage so I don’t know” when asked if women should wear head coverings.
Well, today we are going to study this passage. We are not going to avoid it because that it is easier. Every single word in the Bible is God’s truth. And no matter how hard to understand, every single word is relevant for us today. Should women wear head coverings? What is the role of men and women? Is there any underlying principle behind this practice? These are some of the questions we will look at today.
Read the passage.
I. Paul reminds the Corinthians of his authority
In verse 1 Paul says, follow my example as I follow Christ. Probably this verse fits better closing the topic in chapter 10 than here. Still, Paul is reminding the Corinthians of his authority and of his leadership. In verse 2 he offers some rare praise for the Corinthians. Their church was full of immoral and sinful practices. Some sins were being committed there which even unbelievers seldom fell into. But Paul always tries to be as optimistic as possible. He always tries to find the good in people that he can comment on and praise them for. So here he praises the Corinthians that they still are willing to listen to and respect Paul and his opinions. When Paul speaks, they pay attention. They care about him and they respect his leadership. They realize that the things Paul teaches them are accurate and they do hold on to those things. And Paul praises them for this. Intellectually they are willing to accept Paul’s authority.
On this point, they do better than many people today. Let’s face it. The world today is hyper sensitive to issues of men’s and women’s roles and equality. I have read many articles of people protesting and fighting for gender equality. Liberal feminism and demanding that women can and should do everything that men do is rampant. Here is one example. Some decades ago war was man’s business. Men went to fight wars to protect women. But now since women and men are considered to be completely equal rules have been changed allowing women to not only serve in the military, but join the front lines. In WWII Americans would not have dreamed of allowing women to serve in combat. Men would have been ashamed and considered they were not fulfilling their roles as protectors.
This radical feminism has changed the way men and women are viewed and it has changed how many people view the Bible. How do such feminists like Paul? I can tell you. They hate him. He is considered to be a madman, a suppressor of women and their natural rights. This thinking which is so prevalent in culture has infiltrated the church. Even some believers dismiss what Paul says on gender issues. They say that he lived at a different time and era and therefore what he says on gender issues is not applicable or relevant today. When they reach parts of the Bible where Paul discusses men’s and women’s roles they will tune out. They will say “it is cultural.” And they will mentally close their minds and hearts to what is written, accepting the teaching of culture rather than God’s Word. Brothers and sisters, let me tell you right now, this is dangerous thinking. In a couple of weeks we are going to reach 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter. What believer will listen to this famous chapter on God’s love and say “it is cultural?” We don’t need to do that today. The world is different now. No one. Instead they will say how beautiful this chapter is and how the world will be a better place if everybody followed the teaching inside.
Let me tell you something. The world will be a better place if 1 Corinthians 11 is followed.
You see the problem? People accept one passage of the Bible which they like and toss out one passage which they don’t like. Why? What is the basis for this? The basis is themselves. One passage sounds good to them. One passage is hard to accept. One passage is accepted by culture even unbelievers, while the other is viewed as prejudiced. They are looking for teaching which will tickle their ears. See 2 Timothy 4:4.
When a person begins to pick and choose which passages he will accept based on his own inclinations or the culture around him he is setting himself up as God. He is the decider of which parts of the Bible are God’s Word and which are not, which parts he wants to obey and which parts he doesn’t. They are like the people of Romans 1:25 who worship the created (that is themselves) rather than the Creator.
Picking and choosing which parts of the Bible we like is not a new thing. The second president of the US was Thomas Jefferson. Have you heard of him? Have you heard of the Jefferson Bible? Most people don’t know this but Jefferson went through the Bible and cut out all the parts he didn’t agree with. Most miracles and supernatural events were cut out. He didn’t believe these things. So he was left with the Jefferson Bible. He had set himself up to be the final authority. If Jefferson approved it, it could stay in. If he did not, then it was cut out. Are you like Jefferson?
That brings us to our first point today.
Application: The Corinthians were commended because they listened to Paul and believed what he had to say. We too must come to this passage and every passage from the Bible with an open heart. We must not allow the culture around us to influence our thinking or bias our understanding of the Bible. We must accept that every part of the Bible is relevant and useful for our era and culture and for every era and culture.
II. The universal principle: Headship of God, Christ, and Man.
Verse 3 is a very important verse in this passage. In this verse we find the foundational principle or truth which the rest of this passage is built on. In fact, all of the role distinctions between men and women which are so controversial in the world today are summed up in this verse.
What does this verse teach us?
It teaches us that God has established authorities. God is a God of order and not of chaos. We see the headship of the Father in the Trinity, the headship of Christ over the church, and the headship of man over woman (It can also be translated as the head of a wife is her husband). God has seen fit to structure authority to make our world as harmonious as possible.
And the root reason people refuse to accept God’s plan is because people at their core rebel against authority. From the very beginning Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s authority in the garden egged on by Satan. Satan is still egging people on to rebel against authority whether it be their boss, their teacher, their parents, the Bible, etc.
A lot of people get very angry at this concept that man is the head of the woman. Even believers get offended at the very idea of this. I would like to ask a question to these believers who get offended at this concept.
1. Do you also get offended that God the Father is the head of Christ? Do you get offended that God the Father and God the Son have different roles? My guess is they do not get offended at this. Whether or not they do, I can tell you one thing. Jesus did not get offended at this. Philippians 2:6. Jesus willingly submitted Himself to the Father’s will and leadership. See also Luke 22:42.
You see the authority and roles in the Trinity are very much like the authority and roles God has given to man. Is that true? Is Jason making stuff up? Is the Trinity really comparable to the relationship between men and women?
Read Genesis 1:26. Let us make man in our image.
Jesus and the Father had different roles. Was Jesus any less important or any lower rank than the Father? No. Philippians 2:9 tells us that Jesus is “given a name which is above every name.” So here is the logic from this verse.
- Jesus had a different role than the Father. He submitted himself to the headship of the Father. He was equal in value and rank to the Father.
- On the same note. Women have a different role than men. They should submit to the headship of men. They are equal in value and rank to men.
Let me be clear a different role does not denote inferiority. Women are not inferior to men or lesser than men and should not be treated as such. Their capability, intelligence, giftings, skills, are not the reason for this and are not lesser because of this.
Read Galatians 3:28.
Share illustration of team. Even World Cup national soccer teams have different roles for different people. How would Argentina do if their goalie decided he wanted the spotlight and tried to take Messi’s role? How would Argentina do if Messi decided running around was too tiring and he wanted to be the goalie?
Women are to be cherished, honored, loved, protected, and served. At the same time women should humbly follow the leadership of men in the church and in the home, not all men everywhere, but their own husbands and the leadership in their church or society.
III. The principle applied (4-7)
A. A head covering was a symbol of submission in Corinth
We have seen that the underlying universal principle is that a woman should be a good follower, willingly submitting herself to the leadership structure God has established just as in fact men must willingly submit themselves to the leadership structure God has established over them.
How were the Corinthians to apply this principle? Why did Paul even bring it up? For these we need to talk a bit about the situation in their culture.
Wearing head coverings was the normal practice for modest women of the day. There were, however, two kinds of women who did not wear head coverings. The first was prostitutes. Prostitutes did not wear head coverings for obvious reasons. They wanted to show themselves off. Their business was selling themselves and they could not show off their beauty if they covered themselves.
The second group were feminists. Yes, feminists existed even back in that day. Feminists have always existed. Part of the curse God gave people is seen in Genesis 3:16 “You will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.” Gender conflicts have always existed. These are shown in two ways. Men rule over their wives. Note that it does not say “serve.” In other words, they abuse their authority and approach it selfishly. And on the other hand women do not graciously follow the leadership there, but instead try to throw it off and get control. In Corinth the feminist movement was strong. Women were revolting against that culture’s structure and order. And they revolted by demanding equal rights or roles with men. One aspect of that was throwing away their veils. If men did not wear them, then they would not wear them either! In the 1960s in the US a movement was started. Women feminists everywhere said “Burn the bra.” They were symbolically revolting against the order of women and men in society. In Corinth it was not “burn the bra,” but “burn the veil!”
In every age and in every place the church is, worldly culture creeps in. Feminism was a very important and relevant topic to the Corinthians women. In chapter ten Paul talks about Christian freedom and how to approach eating various kinds of food. Naturally they may want to know, how far does this freedom go? Does it extend to veil burning? As free women in Christ, could they not also be liberated from their culture’s expectation of wearing head coverings?
Paul is telling them, “ladies, keep your veils on.” Paul says in verses 5-6 that tossing the veils is basically the same in implication as shaving their head. Apparently some feminists actually did this as well pushing the idea of gender equality as far as they possibly could. Paul tells them “if you don’t want to shave your heads and go all the way, then don’t toss out your head coverings.”
In that society head coverings was a symbol of humility, modesty, and submission. In fact, the same is true in many Middle Eastern countries today. In these societies when a woman rejects her culture and throws off the covering, what she is doing is declaring that she is not in submission. She does not want to follow the cultural standards. She doesn’t care how she is viewed. A Christian woman in Corinth would have been viewed as either a harlot or a radical feminist if she tossed her covering.
So Paul asks the question in verse 13, “Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?” A woman who comes to God should be in all things modest, humble, and submissive. Is it proper for a woman to come to God in prayer and at the same time say, “I don’t care about the authority structures you have designed?”
In verse 5 Paul says, “Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head.”
Some have used this verse to say, “See a woman can pray and prophesy!” Well, firstly that is kind of funny. Because the very people who say they can’t stand Paul then clutch on to this statement from Paul as a validation of what they hope to be true. Can a woman pray and prophesy? Of course. The Bible never says a woman cannot pray. The Bible never says she cannot prophesy. What Paul is saying to the Corinthians is that wherever a woman can pray and prophesy in a biblical manner she should wear a head covering as that is her culture’s symbol of submission. And a woman coming to the Lord should come with an attitude of submission. There are many proper outlets for a woman to use her spiritual gifts in service to God. Other passages clarify what the proper role of women in the church is so we will not spend time on it today.
Some people have tried to interpret a head covering as actually meaning hair. But look at verse 6. This verse should be sufficient to show that the hair itself is the not the head covering Paul had in mind. If it a covering is equal to hair then verse 6 would read like this: “If a woman does not have hair, let her cut her hair off or shave her head.“
Application: We have seen that in Corinthian culture a woman should wear a head covering as an outward sign of her submission, modesty, and humility. So that brings us to the question of the day. And it is important one. Should a godly woman wear a head covering? Whatever the principle that is being taught in the Scripture is, should be obeyed. We cannot pick and choose which things are convenient or which things we like. If the Bible teaches us that women should wear a head covering then we should do it. I hope that every one of you is ready and willing to obey whatever the Bible teaches.
Well, it seems I cannot delay answering this question any longer. Should a woman wear a head covering? If you ask different believers you may get different answers, because the topic is controversial. If you were to ask Tony or Joanna or Paul and Mimi you might get a different answer. I do encourage you to ask Tony or Joanna later to hear their point of view.
Well, it seems I did delay answering the question a little longer. But no more! Should a woman wear a head covering? I believe the answer is “it is not necessary today.” Certainly it is not wrong to do so should be respected when women make this decision. But I personally do not believe it is required when fully studying and interpreting the text. Why?
In Bible interpretation class, I learned to ask a question when studying a text in the Bible. The question was “What is the universal principle here?” I believe that the universal principle, the principle applicable to all people in all times in every place is found in verse 3.
The application of verse 3 is that women should always in all cultures act in a way that demonstrates godly submission to the authorities God has established.
For the Corinthians this meant that the women should wear head coverings, especially when praying!
For those who would think that a Christian woman must wear a head covering today, I would ask, “What does her head covering show to society around her? Does her head covering in some way demonstrate her submission or humility?” The answer in China and in the US, is “no.” Likely in the Middle East the answer would be “yes” Neither most believers nor most unbelievers in the US or China have this mindset that a head covering demonstrates submission. Perhaps they could understand what this means after studying it, but it would not be naturally apparent to them.
In our society today there are few outward signs of this submission. Certainly modest dress and meek, gentle speech are important. Some ways of dressing would demonstrate a lack of submission or even rebellion toward society. For example hair died neon or blue, excessive tattoos, crude language on clothing. But there are a fewer examples of ways of dressing that outwardly demonstrate submission. The reason is that submission is primarily an internal character quality of the heart. 1 Peter 3:3-4.
III. Any type of role reversal is improper (4,7)
The passage does not only deal with women. It also deals with men. Paul tells men that they not wear head coverings. It seems that wearing head coverings was equally dishonorable for a man as NOT wearing them was for a woman. The point is clear. There is a role distinction. A man who wore a head covering while praying was basically acting like a woman. Perhaps such a man in Corinth wanted to show support for feminists or perhaps he was confused about his gender or an effeminate. Paul leaves no room for this either.
He is saying “Men should behave like men and women should behave like women. Each should be fulfilled and content in their own roles.”
Just to remind you that Paul did not blindly follow the culture he was part of, I should tell you that Jewish men did and still do wear a type of head covering called a kippah. And in other parts of the Bible he does not rail against this. In Jerusalem for a man to wear a kippah while praying was an outer sign of respect to God. But in Corinth it was for women. And Paul did not want any man, Jewish or otherwise to act like a woman.
A man should show proper respect for and submission to God in his society and a woman should show proper respect for and submission to God in her society. And the way they do this is different. Because they have different roles.
A man should act like a man, talk like a man, and dress like a man. A woman should act like a woman, talk like a woman, and dress like a woman.
This is getting all mixed up in the world today, especially in Western culture. More and more people are in some way becoming unsatisfied with the sex that God gave to them and wanting to change their sex. You have men dressing as woman. You have women having surgeries to outwardly become a man and men having surgeries to outwardly become a woman. Men take hormones to become more lady-like and vice-versa. And like it says in Romans, not only is this sin becoming widespread, but society gives hearty approval for those who engage in it, and might I add strong condemnation to those who don’t glorify this lifestyle.
Men want the right to use ladies bathrooms. Department stores are eliminating gender specific clothing or toys for children. Schools brainwash children that being transgender is OK and also put seeds of doubt into children’s mind about their own gender. One girl of 14 was taken from her parents because they would not agree with the doctor’s assessment that the girl needed gender re-assignment. The world has gone crazy. China is a bit better for now, but these things are coming here too.
You must understand that God created gender distinctive roles and that Satan is working to blur them.
Application: Raise your boys to be boys and raise your girls to be girls. It is good for you boy to act like a boy, dress like a boy, and play with toys for boys. It is good for your girl to act like a girl, dress like a girl, and play with toys for girls. Your boy does not have to fill the stereotype for boys to be big and strong and tough and macho. And your girl does not have to be some weak sissy. But they should not be confused about what God has made them. And as parents you should train them up to have a healthy understanding of and appreciation of who they are and how God has designed them to be.
IV. Woman should submit to authority, but men are also dependent on women. (8-15)
We have already hit on the main points of this passage, but will highlight a few observations from the remaining verses.
- Verses 8-9 – In these verses Paul gives a reason why women should be in submission to man. Remember that the most important reason is that man is the head of the woman as seen in verse 3. Another reason is that man came first and Eve was created from Adam’s rib as a helper. In other words, creation itself shows us that women’s proper role is submission.
- Verse 10 – Paul gives another reason why women should wear a symbol of authority on her head, and that is because of the angels. The Corinthian church should know that angels were watching them. Angels have been eye witnesses of people and what we are doing. Angels knew the authority structure God designed. If a Christian woman cast aside her head covering, thus declaring herself to be a radical feminist, the angels would be aghast. What was the fallen angels’ sin? Rebellion against authority. So the good angels would want to be very submissive and obedient to authority. They also learn from us according to 1 Peter 1:12. Therefore if a lady rejects proper authority, it would be a bad testimony to angels! Today it is also true. We have many motivations not to sin. One very interesting one we often don’t think of is that angels are watching us and we are a bad testimony to them when we sin.
- Verses 11-12 – In these verses Paul reminds men that we are dependent on women. How many men here had a mother? I see a few hands did not go up, hmmm. Men, this passage does not give you an excuse to abuse your authority or lord it over women. Jesus cautioned his disciples many times that a leader serves. Paul says in Ephesians 5 that a husband should love his wife. Ephesians 5:21 says to “submit to one another” out of reverence for Christ. 1 Peter 5:3 says that leaders should not “domineer” the flock. Men, I hope you don’t go home today and say, “HA! I am the boss!” Being the head of your home is a big responsibility. Wherever you lead, do so as a loving servant.
- The remaining verses will be discussed during the discussion time.
Conclusion: Today we learned that men and women are equal in value, but different in roles. I would like to leave you with a few questions to consider:
- Men, are you being MEN? Are you faithfully taking the responsibility God has given you as a head of your home or as a leader to lovingly serve others? How can you be a better man for God?
- Women, are you fulfilling the role God has prepared you for? Are you happy and content in that? Are you a good follower of your husband, encouraging and supporting and helping him? How can you be a better woman for God?
- How did God design women and men differently to prepare them for their unique roles?
- What a some ways that a woman’s role and a man’s role is different?
- Verses 14-15 – Is it ok for a man to have long hair? Is it ok for a woman to have short hair? Why or why not?